2015 Fantasy Baseball: Plate Discipline –Second Basemen
As we continue our plate discipline series we will pause for a station break so that those that are just joining us can catch up. I do this series once a year because it helps identify some sleepers you can add on the waiver wire. It also helps identify which of the studs might be headed off a cliff. In our look at plate discipline, we will look at what I like to call “results data” and “process data.”
You don’t see the process data on any fantasy website normally and it doesn’t factor directly into fantasy numbers, but it does help us figure out who is underachieving and who is overachieving. In that vein, we will pay attention to the percentage of swings that come on balls outside the zone (Oswing), a player’s contact rate, and the percentage of strikes that come on swings and misses (Swstr).
Instead of looking at the best and worst plate discipline players, we will be looking at them in the groups where they were normally drafted. We will compare each player with the median regular. In order to be considered, each player must have either been up in the big leagues for three seasons or had at least 1000 plate appearances. That eliminated a number of guys as it did in previous posts about catchers and first basemen.
People wonder why I have a man crush on Ben Zobrist. You can see the genesis of it right here. There is the versatility and the contributions in all five categories, but it mostly comes back to this. He arguably is the most disciplined hitter at second base. Of course, Dustin Pedroia has a lot to say about that as well. Either way, you can see that when you start to take away power, you start to see increased plate discipline.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum you see guys like Altuve and Cano. Both are excellent contact guys and both are in their primes, but Cano is signed for another eight seasons. Much like Albert Pujols, his lack of discipline won’t help him age gracefully. Of course, the Mariners have never been known as a particularly sabermetrically minded organization. It makes you wonder if they’ve ever heard of process data. The Astros definitely have their eye on that data, but they hope Altuve is young enough to continue developing in that area.
There were many drafts where Jason Kipnis and Dee Gordon were selected before Ben Zobrist. I personally think that borders on insanity in six category leagues, but in a five category league it makes some sense. Kipnis in particular demonstrates that he should bounce back to be the player he was in 2013. The process numbers are there to back up solid performance. Gordon on the other hand demonstrates some serious flaws. If he is going to score runs and steal bases he must get on base. These numbers demonstrate he will likely struggle in that department.
Meanwhile, among the other players, only Chase Utley stands out as a positive in terms of plate discipline. The rest have Oswing rates greater than 30 percent. That’s worse than the median for the whole MLB universe but is particularly problematic at second base. It may not catch up with them this season, but it will before too long.
Bench and Waivers
On the positive end, you will notice that Yunel Escobar is the only player here that is better than the median in every category. When you add in the fact that he will be eligible at second, third, and shortstop in some leagues, then you see he would make a pretty good add for your bench. Otherwise, the rest of these guys are not particularly good in terms of plate discipline. Gyorko barely qualified for the 1000 plate appearance level, so he may have some hope of improving, but the rest have pretty long track records.
In particular, Brandon Phillips is one of the reasons why this series exists. A scant two years ago he was one of the top six or seven second basemen on the board. This year he went undrafted in a number of leagues. Like most players that lack discipline, they lose their ability to make contact with those pitches outside the zone as they get older. Fangraphs tracks all of the data we have used in the series and they also track contact rates on balls in the zone and out of the zone. He’s made more contact lately and still is struggling because he is swinging more often at balls outside the zone. That erosion can be seen in his performance data as well. His walk rate last season was the lowest it had been since 2012 and fell below five percent for the third time in his career.